Reflecting on Sydney Southerland, from a sexual assault survivor

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.” I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

Last week, Sydney Sutherland, a 25 year-old woman, went jogging near her home in rural Arkansas along State Highway 18 near Newport and Grubbs.

Two days later, her body was found north of her residence.

Two days after that, August 23, 2020, Quake Lewellyn was charged with capital murder, rape, and kidnapping.

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.”

I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

I realized I had said the same words to myself, and maybe aloud to others, many times in the light of untimely deaths. In the light of global catastrophes. In the light of major losses.

What a waste of a life is what I think I meant.

But I hated how that sounded. I hated how it felt.

25 years lived vivaciously, beautifully, in service to others after nursing school… how is that a waste of a life? It’s certainly not. Not in any way at all. Just because a deviant perpetrator targeted Sydney Sutherland and opted to terminate her life abruptly does not in any way indicate that her life was wasted.

I vowed to stop using those words and to find new words, even if only to mutter to myself. What would those words be?

I reflected on my own incidences of sexual assault.

As a survivor of multiple incidences of sexual assault by multiple perpetrators over my lifetime (thank God none ended in death), I recall that vivid sense of purposelessness. Uselessness. Depravity. Feeling devoid of the desire to continue. Lack of hope. This often occurs in sexual assault victims after trauma; it lasts for varying lengths of time, depending on whether the victim seeks help or not.

Thankfully, I sought help, but not right away.

For years, I coped on my own terms. You can imagine how well that worked for me. Self-medication, self-help books, and talking to all the wrong people who give all the wrong advice will get you to all the wrong places. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was scared to trust anyone at all with what hurt the most.

I finally found a cobbled path to healing through Christian counseling and a recovery program. It’s a continual journey. Post-traumatic stress disorder reminds me of getting divorced. It’s supposed to be final and over, but it’s never really over. I paid the money and moved the turd out of my house. But I’m still stuck with the residue, the financial effects of our marriage, and the reminders every time those stupid Facebook Memories pop up. “12 years ago today: ‘Can’t wait to watch Biggest Loser with X and eat banana splits at the same time!” Barfarama.

Over the past few months, I’ve found it interesting to observe this surge of interest related to #SaveTheChildren—all things related to sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and human trafficking. As a survivor who’s advocated, volunteered, and served in this realm for almost 20 years, I’m thrilled that the world suddenly cares.

I only hope it won’t stop at sharing posts and gory articles online. Let me reassure you if you’re only doing this much that there’s much more you can do to help save children’s lives, if that’s your genuine motive.

Locally, you can volunteer for the Rape Crisis Center operated under the umbrella of the Family Violence Prevention Center or for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County.

If you’re interested in working to combat human trafficking, you can contact P.A.T.H. (Partners Against Trafficking Humans). In fact, you can attend their volunteer training for 20 hours to learn a wealth of information and then volunteer in numerous ways within their organization, too.

To support multiple global human trafficking organizations, select from a myriad of nonprofit organizations, some faith-based and others non-partisan, doing excellent work all over the world. You can volunteer remotely to manage social media, write articles, answer hotline calls, or perform a variety of other tasks. If you’re outspoken and comfortable with public speaking, many organizations need community representatives and educators. You can write a check if financial support is more your speed.

There are no limits to the ways these organizations need help—trust me. I personally align myself with two organizations—P.A.T.H. and The Asservo Project. I recently published a book and give $1 of each book’s proceeds to The Asservo Project. I’ll continue to look for ways—always—to support these organizations because the work they do changes lives, supports survivors, and brings perpetrators to justice.

Ultimately, we’re never doomed to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, victims, or survivors unless we choose to. There’s plenty of work to be done. We just have to choose to take action.

The work of organizations (and volunteers) ensures that beautiful souls like Sydney Sutherland’s are honored, that tragedies like Sydney Sutherland’s assault and murder are redeemed.

Bethany Wallace owns a consulting business, Bethany Wallace Communications & Consulting, and partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions.

Bethany presents research at conferences and contributes to major publications and recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, Flex Jobs, the New York Daily News, Business Tech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, 10 Minute Mindset, Everyday People, and more. In June 2020, she also recently  published a collection of original poetry, “Hindsight 2020: A New and Selected Poems by Bethany Wallace.”

Bethany earned her Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature at Arkansas Tech University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Lyon College.

THE BSD MILLAGE, PART 1: An auditorium and a gym

This article is the first in a series about the upcoming School Millage vote.

Batesville School District wants to upgrade its facilities, and fund it via a personal property tax rate increase. It has offered three proposals for citizens to consider.

The Auditorium

All of the three improvement options center around two large additions: an auditorium and a gym.

Russellville School District’s auditorium, which seats 1,875, was used for an event 26 weekends last year, according to their Executive Director, Chrissy Clayton. She said their building hosted 170 events throughout the year, 6 of which filled it to capacity. Thirty of those events were rentals (non-district). The 130,000 square foot Center was completed in 2012, after the people of Russellville said yes to a 6.9 millage.

Hannah Cummings, Theatre Director for Batesville High School, and Josh Poff, Band Director for BHS, visit with Daniel Stahl, the technical director for Russellville’s The Center For the Arts on Sep 14, 2019 during a fact finding trip for the upcoming millage.

Batesville School District no longer has an auditorium.

Its previous auditorium was built in 1951 and was in use by students until last school year, for a total of 68 years.

The cost to renovate the old auditorium up to code would cost 97 percent of what a new building would cost, according to the district’s Buildings and Grounds Steering Committee member Courtney Beal.

To build one that meets the minimum requirements for a 5A school, the district says, would cost $17 million. They want to build a new one.

The Gym

The district also wants to build a new gymnasium, since the current school gym has been used for 50 years. When it was built, the school was classified as 3A, and the population was 33 percent less than now. Also, the only team using it in 1969 was the men’s basketball team.

The school’s architect says a new gym would cost $15 million. Same story with the renovations. It would cost more to renovate than build new.

To build these two facilities, and update existing facilities, the district is asking local property owners to contribute $45 to $85 million.

The Cost

PLAN A, the lowest option, a $45 million bond:

An increase of $13.50 per month per $100,000 of a person’s property value (to include homes, real estate, business, vehicles)

That tax amount increases for Option B and Option C.

Fear

Asking locals to pay a higher tax is not an easy ask. Tight budgets could get tighter. Those on a fixed income would have less. (Click here to read what the local tax collector had to say.)

One of the FAQs, according to the school district’s information, is whether the millage will affect Senior Citizens at the same rate. The answer is yes.

Some of these concerns were expressed by citizens who attended the town hall meeting at the community center on Tuesday, Nov 12.

To hear more concerns being expressed, watch the district’s first meeting, which was broadcast live on White River Now’s social media page, and as of Nov 17, had 4,600 views.

Why should I invest in these two buildings? Will they help the economy grow?

Years ago, voters said yes to a millage for the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB) to build a 1,500-seat auditorium, hoping it would provide economic growth. The college completed Independence Hall in 2001 and made the final payment in 2018.

According to the Strategic Community Plan Report released by Impact Independence County in 2015: “Despite being a nearly $50 million a year industry, Independence County’s tourism sector has been on a steady decline, both in terms of visitor interest and revenue, for more than a decade.”

Which means that unfortunately, building the largest auditorium in town did not increase tourism revenue during that decade.

Still, the facility is widely used. Examples of recent events there include: former NASA Engineer, Dr. Christine Darden, presented to more than 1,000 local middle school and junior high students on Apr 11, 2019, and Lee Greenwood held a concert there on Sep 7, 2019.

Currently, Batesville School District is not in the running for hosting events. They lose out to places like Russellville, chosen to host the State Thespian Festival in Feb 2019, which lasted three days and included 1,222 high school students from around the state and 98 guest artists, including a producer from New York City. This is their third time to host, and they say they were chosen because of their facility and people.

Will local growth eventually alleviate some of this new tax burden?

Tourism

Tourism is the second largest industry in the state and has shown growth for nine consecutive years. Batesville wanted to experience that growth, so voters said yes to hiring a full-time position devoted entirely to growing the local tourism. Kyle Christopher was hired in 2016, and since then, the tourism industry in Batesville has been increasing. Last year, visitors paid close to $1 million in taxes to our community, and travel expenditures in the county were up 4.2 percent.

If the tourism industry in Batesville continues to grow, Batesville will grow, and the millage debt can be paid off sooner. (More tax payers means more money for the school and higher property values for land owners.)

Industry

In 2002 (the year after Independence Hall was completed), Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville sold their first mower. They now employ more than 700 people. They manufacture and store their zero-turn mowers in more than one million square feet of facilities, according to their website. They currently host their annual meeting in Little Rock. Batesville does not have the facilities to host a large event like this one.

Banking

Banking deposits in Independence County increased 18 percent in 2018 compared to 2014, according to data reported in the 2018 Economic Report for Batesville and Independence County (Report is available on First Community Bank’s website.)

Healthcare

In 2017, White River Medical Center welcomed its first class of resident doctors, and now has 29 Internal Medicine residents. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) clinic in Batesville welcomed its first class of residents this summer, and at full capacity will have 18 family medicine residents. Many residents do not come alone. They bring family members with them. Which increases the population and economy.

According to the American Medical Association, a physician who practices in Arkansas provides an average yearly economic benefit of $1.8 million to the community where they practice. (Jobs are created to support them. The average number is 11 per physician.)

Unity Health, located in Searcy, has graduated 27 residents since they started in 2015, and has retained 5, or 18.5 percent, to work within their hospital system, according to their Graduate Medical Education Manager, Leslie Provence.

If Batesville follows that same pattern, the area would retain 4 physicians and their families every year. Which means, unless those physicians are directly replacing a retiring physician, the local economy could experience economic growth of $7.2 million per year.

To read the author’s disclaimer and see a list of sources, click here.

To read part 2 in the series, click here.

Homes selected for 2019 Preservation Awards

Each year the Batesville Preservation Association (BPA) selects a small number of property owners to honor for their part in preserving unique architectural assets in the city.

At a ceremony held at The Royal on Main, a new luxury hotel downtown and the recipient of one if its 2019 preservation awards, the board of the BPA announced the full list of honorees for the year.

They are as follows:

MERIT AWARD

(Recognizing long-term preservation of significant buildings)

Sleep Star Lite Building
147 South Broad Street

Built in 1929

Mission Style, reminiscent of Spanish Colonial buildings in the American southwest, with prominent feature of terra cotta tile

“We took him (the state expert) by and he said ‘that is the ultimate in Mission Style’,” Dr. Terrell Tebbetts said of the award committee’s review of the property. “They have maintained the terra cotta tile at the top, and they still have the paneled wood below the show windows.”

Owner Rodney Hall commented that the building was owned by the notable Hale family prior to his purchase of the property in 1974.


MERIT AWARD

Stanley Wood Chevrolet Dealership Building
290 S. Central Avenue

Built in 1930

Mission style, reminiscent of the Spanish Colonial buildings with brickwork in a basket-weave pattern

“A couple of years ago a church approached us, and they’re using the building now,” owner Scott Wood updated. “They’ve done a lot of work to make the building better than it was and keep it going, and we hope they’re going to be there a long time. It seems to be working well for them, and they enjoy having a location that is downtown.”

“The building has been in the Wood family since 1939, so 80 years,” Myra Wood added.


MERIT AWARD

The Stalker House
1580 E. Main Street

Batesville’s fullest example in Batesville of the Mid-Century International Style

“This one is a house I’d long, long admired… Scott and Stephen Stalker and sister Suzanne Magouyrk all grew up in the house, and Scott and his wife live there today,” Dr. Tebbetts said, adding that the home was a Freeman Mobley house.

“We haven’t done a lot to the outside. We remodeled the inside after we bought it after Dad passed in 2009,” Scott Stalker said, adding that his family plans to complete some exterior upkeep projects in the coming year. “We’re not going to do anything really different, but we’re going to update the paint and roof,” he described, recalling, “Suzanne was 3 and I was 2 when we moved into the house.”


MERIT AWARD

The Musgrave House, owned by Karl and Terry Kemp
733 Vine Street

Ranch Style home with sleek, International style influence

“We were driving around the residential neighborhood when the state expert, Paul, noticed the Musgrave house on Vine Street. The Kemps own that and they had just put a new coat of paint on it,” Dr. Tebbetts said. “He said it’s a ranch style house, but that clean stucco surface makes it a very different type of ranch house than you normally see — more International Style. So it’s a Ranch Style with International influence. The Kemps have it now and they’ve done a wonderful job with it.”

“When we first bought the house and moved in, there was carpet all through it, and of course I knew Terry was just dying to see underneath the carpet,” Dan Kemp said. “We knew there were wood floors, but she really wanted to know what they looked like, so I guess really it was the first day, we pulled every stitch of carpet out of the house. The floors were in great shape…Mrs. Musgrave, we had been told, wanted to be able to take up the carpet if she didn’t like it. So we didn’t even have to re-finish them.”


MERIT AWARD

Lyon College’s Highland House
2030 Bearette (the corner of Gwyn and Bearette)

Remodeled in the Georgian style by the Hathcock family in the 1960s


HONOR AWARD

(Recognizing extensive restoration and renovation of historic buildings)

The Carly Dahl and Dustyn Bork Residence
1141 E. College

An interior renovation of the Craftsman-style McMahan Bungalow. The couple recently rebuilt the kitchen, remodeled and added baths, and installed drywall throughout the house, all while respecting and preserving the original elements of the house.

“This was the MacMahan House, and she moved to be with her daughter, and Carly and Dustyn Bork bought the house,” Dr. Tebbetts said of the recent project. “They have done a paint job on the outside, but what they’ve done on the inside is a total (rehabilitation).”

“We refinished the floors — they were beautiful, hardwood floors — and we updated (the layout) so that it went from a 4-bedroom/1-bath to a 3-bedroom/2.5-bath,” Dustyn Bork described. “We tried to keep as much of that 1921 Bungalow Arts & Crafts style because we’re big fans. There’s a lot of interesting trim, even on the ceiling, so a lot of nice architectural detail that we wanted to bring back to life.”


HONOR AWARD

The Ned Metcalf Residence
679 E. Boswell Street

Remodeled at one point in the past in the Craftsman Style, owner Ned Metcalf recently completed a total restoration of the interior


SPECIAL RECOGNITION

The Royal on Main
187 E. Main Street

A Nineteenth-Century commercial building with a façade remodel in the Midcentury Modern style in the 1950s, the building has housed the Sterling Store and a furniture store in recent years. This year, owners Stan and Shanna Fretwell completed an adaptive reuse remodel for mixed use, with commercial space on the lower floor facing Main and suite rentals at the rear and on the second floor. The building has already received both Merit and Honor awards in the past, but was given the Special Recognition Award in honor of the hotel reuse adaptation.

“The Maxfield Building has already received Honor Award and Merit Award in the past, so we’ve run out of awards to give it!” Dr. Tebbetts explained. “But now, Stan and Shanna have done such an amazing job with this building, so occasionally the Awards Committee will give out a Special Recognition Award and this year voted to give one to the Maxfield Building, now The Royal on Main.”

“We kept everything original that we could, and re-used as much material as could, but also inside of that, we have modern amenities as well,” Stan Fretwell said. “It was a lot of late night working for a year and a half — Danny Dozier and I were working buddies, him working in the park and me working in here and we’d meet out back.”

“And a lot of the rooms are named after people who historically were connected to the building,” Shanna explained.